Pre-computer Typography: Letterpress:
In the early days of typography, letters were printed using blocks of wood or metal. The blocks were known as movable type; since they could be moved around and joined to create words, lines and paragraphs. Technically this process of printing is called letterpress printing—where raised reversed blocks of letters were smeared with ink and then pressed against paper to produce an impression of the text. The advantage that they had over traditionally hand written calligraphic manuscripts was that they could be mass produced and the blocks of metal could be reused over and over again for different books.
Printing texts or illustrations with wooden blocks is called Xylography (the word comes from the combination of the Greek words, xylon which means ‘wood’ and graphy which means writing; another word with the similar roots is calligraphy; callis in Greek means ‘beautiful’. Calligraphy hence means beautiful writing).
These metal blocks contain a raised portion which had an inverted image of the letter to be printed. The vertical height of the metal block was the size of the typeface, which meant large blocks of metal were used for large text and smaller blocks for smaller text. These blocks of letters were kept in wooden boxes called type cases. The terms upper-case for capital letters and lower-case for smaller letters is derived from the positions where these letters were placed in the type cases. These solid metal letters have a specialized terminology to describe various features within them.
An Illustration of a typical letterpress ‘sort’ is shown below:
A photograph of a word created by combining three letterpress sorts is also shown here:
The process of combining (composing) words, lines and pages for letterpress was done manually, and the composer had to place each and every block on a ‘composing stick’. Setting books, which contained thousands of words and hundreds of pages this process, was found to be cumbersome and extremely time consuming. In the early portion of the nineteenth century, several individuals tried to solve this problem, by inventing ‘typesetting machines’ which would reduce the time and effort taken for composing metal types. This process of printing was called ‘mechanical typesetting’ or ‘hot metal typesetting’ since ‘hot’ molten metal was poured into letter molds to create ‘sorts’ or ‘slugs’ of words or lines, which were then used for printing. Hot metal printing drastically changed the way printing was done, the speed and effort to print was considerably reduced, this was especially beneficial for the newspaper industry.
Book Making Process:
The entire book making process through mechanical typesetting is illustrated in the following video.
• In the given assignment, please try and answer the following questions.
• Use the available books in your library, online sources or talk to experienced graphic/ type
• After noting down the answers, please discuss your answers with your colleagues and faculty members.
There is a possibility that you might not reach a single unambiguous answer. The goal of the assignment is to stimulate a discussion rather than to come up with a definite answer. Some of the questions are purposefully challenging, complex and ambiguous in nature; they are meant for the more experienced students and faculty, but undergraduates should nonetheless attempt to answer them.
Q3. What were the similarities and differences between the Linotype, Monotype and Intertype, mechanical typesetting machines?
Q4. Find and discuss about the Indian engineer who invented a mechanical typesetting
Q5. Discuss the impact of mechanical typesetting on publishing industry in India. Try and cover the effect on economic aspects of these machines, the typographic quality sand requirements of Indian scripts, the cultural acceptance of machines, and the production processes of newspapers in pre and post-independence India.
Digital Typography Downloads:
• Presentation - Slideshow - pdf